Camel milk in Abu Dhabi

We get a taste for camel products at a farm in the UAE Discuss this article

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A burger or a ride in the desert on safari are just two of the ways camels are put to use in the UAE today. The most recent, however, is the proliferation of camel milk now seen on menus across the UAE. From cheeses to ice creams and cappuccinos, the vast majority of camel milk products on the market are made using milk from the local camel farm and dairy factory, Camelicious.

Located in Umm Nahad on the road to Al Ain, Camelicious operates as a farm, where the animals are tended and milked, and a dairy factory, where fresh and flavoured milk, cheese and laban are produced and bottled with the products having first hit consumer shelves in August 2007. Camelicious also operates as a one of a kind research centre, studying the use and care of camels for dairy purposes, as well as the health benefits of their milk for potential pharmaceutical use.

Now, the concept is growing. The UAE has recently been given trade approval by the European Union to export camel milk to the region, which primarily affects Camelicious as the only potential exporter in the Emirate. With 3,000 camels at the farm at present, Camelicious tells us the aim is to increase numbers by 10,000 in the next two years. Also in the pipeline is a new range of flavoured labnah.

When we visit our first reaction is surprise at how unique in appearance and full of character the camels are. The animals are fed a diet of hay, with occasional carrots as a treat, which we see them greedily relish. Chief veterinarian Dr Judit Juhasz, who is charged with their care, tells us they are ‘lovely animals’ and is evidently very fond of them. We are also surprised by how sweetly charming the camels seem to be, despite being traditionally branded stubborn and ill-tempered.

However, the biggest revelation is that camel dairy farming is an innovative process, with little previous heritage in the UAE. According to Kirsten Lange, director of communications from Camelicious, for the bedouin, ‘camel milk was not part of the daily diet.’ It was only available to breeders, she explains, who drank the milk raw and unpasteurised straight from the camel. ‘Camels were mostly used for transportation, leather and meat, but camel milk was not used for making cheese, as there was no process of conserving cheese in the desert.’

It has consequently been an untapped resource. Camel milk, we learn, is lower in fat than cow’s, and higher in vitamins and minerals, containing four times as much vitamin C, and ten times as much iron as cow’s milk. It can be consumed by those who are lactose-intolerant. It is high in lactoferrin, which has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, and high in lanolin, which has soothing properties when applied directly to the skin. Most significantly, in the UAE, where diabetes rates are high, camel milk naturally contains insulin and studies to date have found that for patients with type 2 diabetes, a regular dose of insulin from drinking camel milk can help regulate the effect of more conventional medicine.

In addition to the culinary potential, these properties make camel milk a potential ‘wonder’ ingredient for both the pharmaceutical and beauty industries. In fact, it could potentially revolutionise diabetes treatment in the region. According to Mutasher Al-Badry, deputy general manager at Camelicious, the research centre is already involved in providing camel milk in powder form for use in the pharmaceutical industry, but demand continues to outstrip supply, due to the amount of milk the camels can be expected to produce.

In production, the milk has to be pasteurised at 75°C, which is within the safe, but lower end of the pasteurisation scale, in order not to destroy these health properties through high heat. In addition to fresh milk, it is also made into powder. Again, in contrast to the high temperatures usually employed in this process, Camelicious have had to create their own innovative freeze drying technology, which operates at -20°C, in order to preserve these minerals and vitamins in the milk, ensuring that the end product is not only a taste sensation, but retains all it’s health benefits too.

So do yourself a favour and make camel milk and its products a part of your diet soon.
Camelicious is available at Choithrams, LuLu Hypermarket and Spinneys.

What’s on the menu?

We taste test some camel milk products available.

Camelicious makes three varieties of fresh cheese, traditional to the region: Palestinian-style naboulsi cheese, akkawi cheese and a soft white cheese. The naboulsi is mixed with carraway seeds, which give it an intense and aniseed-like flavour. The akkawi cheese, which works best for cooking, has an intense and heavy flavour and a slightly crumbly texture. The soft and creamy white cheese is our favourite, with a delicate flavour.

Al Nassma (a branch of Camelicious) make chocolate with camel milk. The plain, milk chocolate variety is exceptionally rich and creamy. We tried some pralines, where the thick and creamy chocolate shell appears to contain a burst of saltiness, nicely matched with the sweetness.

By Penelope Walsh
Time Out Abu Dhabi,

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